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Senate Shuffle

2 Jun

When it comes to the Senate of Canada, no news is indeed good news.

If the Upper House is in the headlines, or leading broadcast newscasts, or the subject of spirited online discussions, chances are good that it is for reasons that don’t reflect well on the institution.

After Prime Minister Stephen Harper swore in his new cabinet last month at Rideau Hall, he spent a few minutes speaking to the media about the ministers he had just appointed.

His office waited until after Harper was done speaking, and safely out of earshot of reporters’ questions, before announcing via press release that the Prime Minister was also appointing three Conservatives to the Senate, all of them unsuccessful candidates in the election that had taken place only two weeks earlier.

In fact, two of the three new senators – Larry Smith and Fabian Manning – had only recently resigned from the Upper Chamber in order to run their failed campaigns for House of Commons seats.

Nice consolation prizes. And nice work if you can get it: The base salary for a Canadian senator is $132,000 a year until the age of 75. Smith, of course, famously referred to that as a “dramatic, catastrophic pay cut” from his previous salary as president of the Montreal Alouettes when he was appointed to the Senate for the first time in December. But Senate appointments have been plum rewards for party loyalists since the time of Confederation.

If the Conservatives thought they could bury the news by announcing it on the same day as the cabinet shuffle, they were mistaken. The Senate appointments knocked the cabinet news off the front pages.

Critics said the appointments smacked of cynicism and contempt for democracy from a Prime Minister who just won his first majority government.

Jack Layton, the new Official Opposition leader, called the move a “slap in the face” to voters.

“Canadians should be outraged that three individuals who were just defeated by the Canadian people in an election have now been appointed to the Senate,” he said.

The public advocacy group Democracy Watch went even further. It called for a police investigation into the appointments, arguing that if the new senators were promised reappointments if they lost their elections, that would have violated a law against inducing Parliamentarians to resign in exchange for reward.

In response, the new-old senators said their surprising reappointments also came as surprises to them.

The government’s explanation for the appointments seemed paradoxical to some. Marjory Lebreton, the government’s leader in the Senate, said the new appointees were necessary to bring the Conservative numbers back up to a solid majority in the Upper House – a majority that can now help pass reforms to the Senate to make it more democratic.

“They’ve all served in caucus, they all support Senate reform and they’ll make a great contribution to the Senate,” Lebreton told CTV News.

Missing from the explanation was a justification for why these particular appointees – and not others – were necessary to ensure such a majority.

But with majorities in both Houses of Parliament, will the government now move quickly to enact Senate reform?

Harper has always advocated some sort of reform, but he will not even entertain the idea of re-opening constitutional talks with the provinces in order to fundamentally change the way the Senate operates – to make it “equal, elected and effective,” in the language of the old Reform Party, in which Harper cut his political teeth.

Instead, his party will soon re-introduce legislation that it couldn’t pass when it had a minority government – legislation that will enable provinces to hold elections for senators that the Prime Minister will be expected to appoint, and that will impose term limits on the winning candidates. Opposition parties blocked such initiatives in the past, arguing they would create a half-baked Senate with uneven regional representation, a fuzzy democratic mandate, and an uncertain legislative role.

Provincial governments are also mostly opposed to this plan (maybe because elected senators could challenge their own monopoly as democratically-elected provincial representatives). Quebec’s government is threatening to take the matter to court if the federal government attempts unilateral reform. Other provincial leaders, including Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, are echoing the federal NDP’s call for the Senate to be abolished entirely.

To effectively enact its plan, the federal government will need the provinces’ co-operation.

If the Prime Minister really is trying to move toward a more democratic Senate, his recent actions on that file may have damaged the credibility of his cause.


Election drumbeats and flag waves

24 Jan

This past weekend, inside an Ottawa convention centre, the Prime Minister of Canada stood in front of the biggest Canadian flag this side of Canada Day, at a podium bearing a placard with a single word in large white letters:


To a crowd of hundreds of supporters waving smaller Canadian flags, there to celebrate the fifth anniversary of his government’s first election victory, Stephen Harper spoke of the people “who are the foundations of Canada”:

“The truck driver. The bank teller. The pensioner. The salesperson. The farmer, the fisherman. The entrepreneur, the autoworker. The tradesperson and the soldier… Whoever has the honor to lead them must care about them and must love Canada as much as they do.”

No mention of Canada-loving college professors or patriotic performance artists. But never mind…

The same weekend as Harper was giving his anniversary speech, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff was wrapping up an 11-day tour of 20 ridings across Canada that his party thinks it can win from other parties.

“Canadians are entitled to ask, ‘are you better off than you were five years ago,’ “ Ignatieff said at the outset of his tour. “Is the economy stronger and is Canada more respected in the world? And I think the answers to all of those questions is no.”

NDP leader Jack Layton was on a cross-country tour of his own.

“If an election comes, New Democrats will be ready to go,” Layton said in Vancouver. “But until then, we’re asking Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff to work with us to get some results for Canadians right now.”

To underline the election-readiness half of that double-barreled message, the NDP offered reporters a “sneak peak at their new cutting-edge election headquarters” in Ottawa. A few days earlier, a reporter obtained and published an internal NDP memo declaring the party “prepared to wage an aggressive federal election campaign at any time”.

Meanwhile, the Conservative and Liberal parties released campaign-style attack ads.

The two Liberal ads were both aimed at the Prime Minister, painting him as more interested in fighter jets and corporate tax cuts than in the concerns of ordinary Canadians, and asking “Is this your Canada? Or Harper’s?”

The Conservatives had several different ads attacking each of the other major party leaders, although Ignatieff was targeted more than others.

“Ignatieff. He didn’t come back for you,” declared the Conservative ads, which described the Leader of the Official Opposition as a tax-and-spend liberal with a dubious commitment to his home country, similar to earlier attack ads that claimed Ignatieff was “just visiting” Canada after many years abroad.

So… are you ready for an election campaign? Or maybe you kinda feel we’re already into one.

Or maybe you’d rather not even think about it even a little bit. If that’s the case, you’re probably in the majority.

And maybe you won’t really have to think about it at all. Because it all could be a bluff.

In a minority Parliament, parties are always in election mode, ready to hit the campaign trail at any moment. And we’ve now had minority Parliaments in this country for more than 6.5 straight years. That’s a Canadian record, if you’re keeping score.

Over that time we’ve had a number of near-elections. Remember Belinda Stronach crossing the floor to help save Paul Martin’s minority government? Remember Stéphane Dion repeating over and over again how he had the power to pull the plug on Harper’s government… until finally Harper decided to pull it himself? Remember when Ignatieff announced, “Mr. Harper, your time is up?”

Ignatieff’s announcement came more than 17 months ago. No, there hasn’t been an election since then.

If there is an election this year, it likely will be triggered by a defeat of the federal budget sometime before the end of March. Any later than that and a federal election will come up against a number of already scheduled provincial elections, including Ontario’s.

Of course, all it will take to avoid an election will be a single opposition party deciding it is in its interest to prop up the government for another while longer.

But if this latest not-quite-an-election period is any indication, we already have a sense of how the next real campaign will unfold:

It will get personal. There will be flag waving. And if poll numbers (which have remained relatively consistent in the five years since Harper’s first election victory) don’t move much during the campaign, then we’re looking at many more record months of minority Parliament.

Questioning Question Period

27 Sep

Shortly before Members of Parliament gathered up their briefcases and returned to work late last month after an extended summer vacation, they were greeted with a sobering performance review from their employers.

That’s us, of course: The Canadian People.

Five days before Parliament opened, a non-partisan think-tank called the Public Policy Forum released poll findings showing that Canadians think their MPs stink.

I’m paraphrasing a bit here. Poll respondents didn’t quite say that MPs stink.  But a majority of them felt federal politicians are falling far short in the performance of one of the most prominent part of their jobs:

Question Period.

Question Period, of course, is only a very small part of what MPs do. It’s a 45-minute-long exercise that takes place on days the House of Commons is sitting. The rest of those days are devoted to less publicized, more sober, and often productive activities such as legislative debates and committee meetings.

But Question Period is what many Canadians think about when they think about what MPs do on Parliament Hill. It’s the House of Commons activity that gets shown most frequently on the nightly news because it’s the time when the political story of the day plays out most dramatically and most publicly.

And the more they think about Question Period, the more Canadians think that it stinks.

Two-thirds of the respondents to the Public Policy Forum’s poll agreed that “Question Period is just a forum for politicians to grandstand for the media and try to score cheap, short-term political points”.

The poll also found a majority (56 per cent) of Canadians “think less of our system of government when (they) see scenes from Question Period”, and that two-thirds believe “Question Period needs to be reformed and improved”.

Ironically enough, Question Period itself was introduced many decades ago as a reform and improvement of Parliament, said Public Policy Forum President David Mitchell. It was created to give the opportunity for regular backbench members of Parliament to ask pertinent questions of cabinet ministers.

According to Mitchell, the decline of Question Period began when cameras were introduced in the House of Commons in the late 1970s, and MPs started to use a time intended for serious questions to instead… well… “grandstand for the media and try to score cheap, short-term political points.”

Nowadays, it has become more of a forum for red-faced, finger-pointing, name-calling theatrics than a chance for elected representatives to get civilized answers from the government about the pressing issues of the day.

Teachers are embarrassed to bring their students on field trips to Parliament to witness behavior that would net their students detentions or suspensions if emulated back in class.

It’s important to note that some observers say the source of the problem is not cameras in the House, but rather too FEW cameras there, and that a lot of the heckling and bad behavior that turns off Canadians might be reduced if its perpetrators could be better identified and publicly shamed.

Clearly, the problem is compounded by the fact that we have been in a minority parliament situation in Canada for more than six years and counting. To some extent, the growing nastiness of Question Period reflects the general nastiness of federal politics in an extended period of uncertainty and heightened partisanship.

In concert with its poll release, the Public Policy Forum held a one-day conference to discuss ideas for reforming Question Period. Conference participants included MPs from different parties, perhaps recognizing that the status quo is becoming increasingly unpalatable to Canadians, and is hurting all of their reputations.

They came up with a list of ten very practical recommendations, including giving the Speaker of the House more authority, and allocating more time for MPs to ask more substantive questions and receive more substantive answers.

The recommendations jibed with those of Conservative MP Michael Chong, whose private member’s motion to reform Question Period may soon come to a vote.

But hopes for an immediate change in the tone of federal politics and an increase in goodwill and civility in Parliament were quickly dashed when MPs finally did come back to work.

The finger-pointing and name-calling began again right where they left off last spring, and spilled out beyond the confines of the House of Commons into a heavily partisan speech by the Finance Minister to an audience expecting sober economic analysis.

If politicians do not find the will to change that tone, they’ll continue to debase their profession and alienate their employers.

That’s us.

A Different Kind of Minority?

10 May

I have no particular expertise when it comes to British elections, and whatever I do know about the subject is forever colored by a 40-year-old episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

Python’s “Election Night Special” sketch parodied a frantic BBC broadcast, cutting between anchors as they spouted nonsense about voting results. The “broadcast” would sporadically jump to live news reports from individual constituencies, where Silly Party candidates seemed to be scoring upset victories over their Sensible Party counterparts. In the sketch, competing local candidates stood together on stage, wearing large round multicolored ribbons on their lapels, as someone announced the voting results.

I used to think the ribbon-wearing and the standing-together-as-results-are-announced were Monty Python visual jokes, but when I watched my first actual live UK election night special on BBC Canada the other night, I realized they really do it that way. For instance, when incumbent Prime Minister Gordon Brown spoke on election night from his Scottish constituency, all the other local candidates he had just defeated stood behind him. They included one guy with shades and a moustache who held his fist in the air the entire time Brown was speaking. Maybe he was from the Silly Party.

And yes, all of the candidates – Brown included – wore large multicolored election-night ribbons on their lapels.

I’m not sure why we don’t do that in Canada, given we inherited most of our democratic traditions from the UK’s “mother of all Parliaments”. Instead, Canadian candidates hide out in their own headquarters on election night, voting results get announced centrally via Elections Canada, and politicians’ lapels remain giant-ribbon-corsage-free.

Of course in this month’s vote, the Brits may have inherited a more recent political tradition from our side of the Atlantic: The Hung Parliament, as they call it, in which no party wins a majority of seats in the House of Commons.

We’ve had three straight federal elections with that result. In the UK, though, the recent national vote was their first one since 1974 in which no clear majority winner emerged.

As I write, several days after that vote, it’s still not clear who will be the next UK Prime Minister (although it won’t be Brown, who announced he would be stepping down as Labour Party leader. His party, which finished in second place to the Conservatives, could still maintain power by cobbling together an Israeli-like coalition of smaller parties).

The most likely scenario is a government led by Conservative leader David Cameron, supported by the third-place Liberal Democrats either in a formal coalition, or in some sort of a Parliamentary arrangement in which the Lib-Dems agree not to defeat the government for a certain period of time in exchange for some policy concessions.

Of course, we’ve had almost six straight years of minority parliaments in Canada without either of these types of arrangements. First Paul Martin, then Stephen Harper, maintained office by hook or by crook, surviving confidence votes through temporary ad hoc alliances with one party or another, through hardball political moves such as wooing over floor-crossing MPs and threatening or calling unwanted snap elections, and when all else failed, by using the extraordinary tactic of proroguing Parliament itself. Although these tactics have prolonged the lifetime of governments, they have been arguably unhealthy for our Parliamentary democracy.

In fact, the ongoing Canadian experience with minority politics prompted some British experts to describe Canada as a good example of what NOT to do when your country is faced with a hung Parliament. A British academic report called “Making Minority Government Work”, released last year by the School of Public Policy at the University College London, devoted an entire chapter to what it called “Canada’s Dysfunctional Minority Parliament”, and concluded that “for minority government to work in Canada there needs to be a dramatic shift in political culture which emphasizes cooperation and accommodation rather than conflict and partisanship”

Because minority parliaments in Canada, as in Britain, have been few and far between, political leaders have tended to see them as temporary aberrations. Maybe that’s why co-operation is so fleeting between parties. But the current minority era in this country has had staying power. Polls suggest it may continue indefinitely.

For the sake of our political culture, it may be high time for the silly and sensible parties in this country to take a lesson from the Brits and try harder to foster more accommodation and less cutthroat partisanship.

Also, I’m definitely in favor of giant round lapel ribbons.

Government by Trial Balloon

22 Mar

One of the first times anyone ever launched a trial balloon, things didn’t go perfectly well.

It was back in 1783. The famed Montgolfier brothers, inventors of the hot-air balloon (which is still called a “montgolfière” in French), had been experimenting with levitating air-filled silk balloons in their hometown of Annonay, in southern France.

Word of their experiments soon reached the French Academy of Sciences in Paris, and one of the brothers was summoned north to report on their discoveries.

But before Etienne Montgolfier was able to do so, a rival inventor named Jacques Charles launched his own trial balloon – this one hydrogen-filled – into the Paris sky.

By some accounts, the launch itself was a success. Hundreds of awestruck onlookers watched the balloon rise heavenward.

But a storm soon blew in and carried it miles away into the countryside. Charles’ balloon landed in a small village, where peasants mistook it for an evil demon attacking from the sky, panicked, and destroyed it with pitchforks and knives.

That’s the way it goes sometimes with trial balloons.

Flash forward some 227 years to the present day. Now, the trial balloons that get launched are metaphorical ones. Politicians float unmanned ideas into the public realm, hoping the rest of us will keep our pitchforks and knives away, and instead gaze awestruck and heavenward at their proposed policies.

But as in 1783 France, things don’t always go perfectly well.

Look at some of the trial balloons our own federal government has floated in recent weeks.

Last month, on the very day that Parliament came back after a lengthy prorogation, in an otherwise unmemorable Speech from the Throne, the government announced plans to “ask Parliament to examine the original gender-neutral English wording of the national anthem.”

The government was apparently proposing that a single line of “O Canada” – “… in all thy sons command…” – be changed back to its original lyric of more than a century ago: “… thou dost in us command…”

The proposal caught the country by surprise. Canadians had just spent two weeks happily singing the national anthem over and over again during the Winter Olympic Games.

It didn’t take too long for the pitchforks to come out. The backlash from citizens was so quick and so virulent that a mere two days after the Speech from the Throne was read, the Prime Minister’s press secretary came out with the following statement:

“The government will not proceed any further to change our national anthem. We have offered to hear from Canadians on this issue and they have already spoken loud and clear. They overwhelmingly do not want to open the issue.”

Not pretty. But that’s the way it goes sometimes with trial balloons.

Then a few weeks later, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon seemed to float a trial balloon of his own. He announced that the government’s plan for aid targeted to women and children in developing countries – the “signature” initiative of this year’s coming G-8 and G-20 meetings hosted by Canada – would not include contraception.

“It does not deal in any way, shape or form with family planning. Indeed, the purpose of this is to be able to save lives,” Cannon told a Parliamentary committee.

Opposition politicians, media commentators and health experts quickly pounced on the minister’s comments, pointing out that family planning is central to maternal and child health in the world’s poorest countries. Critics accused the government of taking a page from the policies of former U.S. President George W. Bush, and putting socially conservative ideology before science and health.

Whether the minister was floating a trial balloon or simply misspeaking, it only took two days — again, two days — for the government to announce that they weren’t excluding contraception from their plan after all.

“We are not closing doors against any options, including contraception,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in the House of Commons.

Another balloon… popped.

And those are simply two of a number of possible examples of a trend that seemed to define the first few weeks back at work for a government that had prorogued Parliament in order to “recalibrate” its agenda. Other burst trial balloons included public statements on government-funded Internet access and on political flyers that MPs send out at taxpayers’ expense.

If the government indeed recalibrated its agenda, it’s hard to understand why there are still so many trial balloons floating around.

And if you’re going to float those balloons, it’s probably a good idea to check for pitchforks ahead of time.

Prime Minister Ringo

5 Oct

When I checked out my Facebook news feed the other day, I knew Michael Ignatieff was in trouble.

No, I’m not Facebook friends with the Liberal leader, so I have no idea if he posted any sort of news – troubled or otherwise – in his status update.

But here’s what I saw after I logged onto my Facebook account:

An online video of Stephen Harper playing piano and singing the Beatles’ classic song “With a Little Help from my Friends” at the National Arts Centre, accompanied by internationally famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

I saw it more than once. It was posted multiple times in my news feed by multiple Facebook friends. My more partisan friends added more partisan comments. My less partisan friends added comments such as “Wow!”

It wasn’t only my friends who were watching and posting the video. A day after the Prime Minister did his best Ringo impression in a surprise appearance at an NAC gala chaired by his wife, the video was the number-one most watched YouTube video in Canada.

Two other video versions of the same performance were in the Top Ten.

Although Tory bloggers began spreading it around the Web, the video’s non-partisan appeal helped it go viral.

And over a couple of days, the virus spread from the Internet to the weekend news programs and to the front pages of the daily newspapers, with photos of the PM’s performance alongside largely favourable reviews.

In the last federal election, a Conservative ad agency put Harper in a fuzzy sweater vest, sat him in a comfy old armchair, bathed him in a soft, warm light and shot a series of campaign ads of him talking softly about his values as a piano tinkled in the background and strings soared.

The ads didn’t really do their job – which was to soften up Harper’s mean-guy image and help win him a majority government – and they were largely abandoned by campaign’s end. Stephen Harper just doesn’t credibly feel like a sweater vest kind o’ guy.

But a relaxed and surprisingly talented PM singing a Beatles’ tune on stage at a music gala? Well, that’s a different story – and fodder for the kind of political advertising that money can’t buy.

On the Maclean’s magazine website, Scott Feschuk joked that in the wake of Harper’s tuneful triumph, “…Jack Layton is tuning his guitar, Elizabeth May is figuring out how to deliver her speeches via karaoke and Michael Ignatieff is… I don’t know, what would Michael Ignatieff play? The lute? The equiviconium? The underwhelm-o-spiel? I fear a four-hour one-man play may be the price we pay for Harper’s Beatles cover. Ladies and gentlemen, Michael Ignatieff is Michael Ignatieff in Michael Ignatieff.”

How do you compete with a singing, piano-playing, crowd-pleasing Prime Minister? That’s what the Liberal leader must have been thinking when the story broke.

In the coverage of the Singing PM, it did not go unremarked that on the very weekend that Harper jammed with Yo-Yo, Ignatieff was at a Liberal Party meeting in Quebec City, trying to get out of a political jam created by Liberal MP Denis Coderre.

Coderre had recently resigned as Ignatieff’s “Quebec Lieutenant” in a very publicly damaging way, blasting the advisers around the Liberal leader who had influenced Ignatieff to reverse a riding candidate decision of Coderre’s.

The details of the spat are less important than the fact that Coderre had been so public about it, opening the door for further sniping – anonymous and otherwise – from Liberals on both sides of what seemed to be an increasingly divided party.

Ever since Ignatieff emerged from a relatively quiet summer to announce that Liberals no longer planned to support the Conservative minority government, his party has been plagued with negative headlines and poll numbers that put it in the territory it was in when Stéphane Dion led it to one of the worst election defeats in its history.

Indeed, Tories are now musing about achieving the majority government that eluded them in the sweater vest era. The only thing keeping us from finding out whether that is possible is that the NDP is now supporting the government to keep the minority parliament going.

The NDP reversal may have saved Ignatieff’s bacon. The Liberal leader’s decision to try to provoke an election is looking increasingly suicidal.

It’s one thing to run against Sweater Vest Guy. It’s an entirely different matter to run against the Fifth Beatle.

Election Year? No… Groundhog Day

8 Sep

The beloved 1993 movie “Groundhog Day”, starring Bill Murray, frequently appears on critics’ lists as one of the greatest film comedies of all time.

It tells the tale of an egotistical TV weatherman who journeys to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover the annual Groundhog Day ceremony – an assignment he approaches with smug superiority – only to get stuck in a time warp, waking up every morning to find himself experiencing Groundhog Day over and over again.

Almost as soon as it was first released, the movie became so popular and influential that the phrase “Groundhog Day” entered popular consciousness as shorthand for a disagreeable experience that one seems to live through repeatedly.

It’s not very well known, but the original screenplay for “Groundhog Day” had a Canadian theme and a notably different plot than that of the eventual film classic.

The first draft of the movie – tentatively titled “Election Year” – had Bill Murray playing an Ottawa MP, rather than a Pittsburgh meteorologist. The opening scene takes place immediately after the votes have been all counted at the end of an autumn federal election.

The incumbent government of the day has just won a narrow minority mandate, and the film opens with the Prime Minister giving a rousing speech to supporters at his party’s election night headquarters. He declares that the Canadian people have spoken, and that although his party did not win a majority, it will govern for all citizens by working co-operatively with all the opposition parties to provide effective leadership through difficult times.

Unlike the eventual film, this early draft had a time frame of an entire year, rather than a single day. Through the deft use of cinematic montage, we see the year unfold briskly through the eyes of Bill Murray’s egotistical main character.

Shortly after the election, Parliament resumes and the government and opposition parties pay lip service to – and make dramatic shows of – trying to work together for the good of the nation. But almost as soon as they make their pledges, we see them beginning to engage in petty battles in the House of Commons, in name-calling through the media, and in secret plotting in caucus rooms.

Over the winter and into the spring, the government releases negative ads attacking the opposition. The other parties reply in turn. Opposition leaders begin playing games of brinkmanship, threatening to bring down the government over every piece of legislation it introduces, then pulling back when the government makes some sort of cosmetic change to its plans.

As the year unfolds, politicians of all stripes seem less and less focused on the challenges of steering the ship of state and increasingly distracted by the possibilities, pitfalls and opportunities of the government falling. The polls, meanwhile, barely move at all.

Summer brings no respite from politics, as election rhetoric continues to boil, back room organizers continue to scheme, and media continue to ponder how much longer this minority Parliament can last.

At the first turning point of the original screenplay, the Bill Murray character wakes up to find himself in the middle of the same fall election as in the beginning of the film, with the same result – another narrow minority government. The Prime Minister gives the same victory speech and the cycle continues anew, with the year again unfolding exactly as it had the first time around.

No matter what Bill Murray the MP does, he can’t stop reliving the same year repeatedly. It always begins and ends with an election that brings a minority government to power.

After the screenwriters completed this first draft of the film, movie producers said the script needed much work. They liked the whole time-warp idea, and the cynical main character who can’t escape his circumstances.

But a Canadian government that keeps getting elected as a minority, lasting a little while, collapsing, then getting elected again as a minority, with the same inconclusive election happening repeatedly at regular intervals?

“Come on,” one of the producers said. “Sure this film is a comic fantasy, but the premise has to be more believable than that! I know! Make the Bill Murray character a meteorologist who relives Groundhog Day over and over again…”

And so a classic film comedy was born. And the whole endless-minority-government-cycle idea was dumped where it belonged: Onto the scrap heap of improbably bad fictional ideas.

Years later, the whole idea was revived. This time in real life.

Where’s Bill Murray when you need him?